BOSTON – Next!

Your star player is down and he’s not getting up. Not only is Spencer Abbott a cylinder in the engine that powers the University of Maine engine, he’s the drive shaft and a big gear in the transmission.

He’s broken and couldn’t be fixed before Maine played Boston College for the Hockey East championship Saturday night at TD Garden.

Officially, Maine said Abbott suffered an upper-body injury. He took an elbow to the head in the third period of Friday’s semifinal win over rival Boston University. He had to be helped to the locker room.

Next!

Matt Mangene heard the four-letter word that can stiffen or soften spines.

It echoed in his mind, although Coach Tim Whitehead probably never actually said the word. The coach did have to make changes. Mangene, who had his coming out party in January with a three-goal game against this same Boston College team, was shifted to the first line to play alongside Brian Flynn and Joey Diamond.

That line scored Maine’s only goal Saturday. Flynn made it close in the second period after Boston College went up 2-0.

But you don’t lose Hockey East’s player of the year and expect his absence won’t have an impact. Boston College beat Maine 4-1, winning the Hockey East title for an unprecedented third straight year. The top-ranked team in college hockey made few mistakes.

Next?

The fallen player is the great variable in all team sports. Tom Brady’s knee, Jacoby Ellsbury’s ribs and Spencer Abbott’s head. Someone has to believe they’re the player who will not allow teammates to feel vulnerable.

When in fact it’s the teammates who rally around the replacement. It’s what Mark Anthoine did when he blasted the winner Friday night with the score tied and Abbott off the ice. After the goal settled into the net, Maine looked around.

Suddenly, Boston University seemed tired. Abbott’s injury and Anthoine’s goal gave Maine a reason to rally.

That’s why the next day on city streets and at the team’s hotel in Cambridge, Mass., you found Maine fans believing Boston College was in trouble, not their Black Bears.

Whitehead said he didn’t talk about Abbott’s absence with his players before Saturday’s game. They all had a part in getting Maine to the conference final. Now was the time to step up their individual games.

“We don’t know when Spencer is coming back,” said Whitehead. He and his players needed to know how they could play without him. They got their lesson.

This season Maine proved its resiliency again and again, but losing Abbott had to feel like getting sucker-punched. Friday night, his teammates didn’t get angry but did get even. That’s the best feeling.

Next?

Freshman John Parker was listed on the early line charts as Abbott’s replacement. After taking some time to feel comfortable in Whitehead’s system, he’s played well over the last six weeks. But when the puck dropped, Mangene was the guy asked to fill the hole. Andrew Cerretani, another freshman forward, was added to the fourth line.

Over the first round of shifts, Maine let adrenaline take over. Boston College didn’t rattle and soon Maine’s edge wore off. It wasn’t getting the same opportunities as the night before. It was playing a better opponent.

Abbott is the playmaker without peer on this team. He’s poised. Ice smart. You can’t easily replicate his strengths.

Mangene may be among the quickest of players in college hockey. His acceleration with the puck makes you catch your breath. He added a different dimension to Maine’s top line.

In the end, too little worked.

In winning three conference tournament titles in a row, Boston College did something not even the great Shawn Walsh teams of the 1990s could accomplish.

Next?

The NCAA regional playoffs begin next weekend.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway